Thursday, January 23, 2014

Voting and the age of consent

I see that Labour has copied the SNP (and the Greens, I think) policy of extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds.  The express purpose is to overcome 'voter apathy' and they hope to do this by enfranchising a section of the population that are at least as apathetic and disengaged as those who are just one rung above them in the age-bracket ranking?

It is a policy favoured by those who have had teenagers described to them or who have only met them in the context of staged events with minders and media advisers protecting them from any stray words that might cause them discomfort.  They might want to look at that... But it highlights a wider issue.  I wouldn't mind so much if this suggestion sprung from a wider consensus about when the transition from childhood to adulthood actually takes place.  But you will find neither in law nor in the position the various political parties take on various issues any consistency.

As far as the Labour party is concerned, for example, in recent years they have taken the view that the sexual age of consent should be 16, regardless of orientation, but the age at which you can either leave education or buy tobacco should be 18.

The SNP, who to be fair have consistently advocated votes for 16-year-olds, rejected the idea of compulsory education past this age.  Thank goodness for that.  However, this was the party who also tried but failed to raise the drinking age to 21!

The Conservatives might have a claim to be reasonably consistent - if it wasn't for the fact that they seem to be brewing plans to extend childhood to 25 with their housing benefit plans.  Those who think this is outrageous are right but they might want to remember that childhood was extended to 25 quite some time ago when it came to the issue of regarding parental income in relation to student grants (remember those?).

Can we discern any pattern?  It is that these parties have a concept of an age of consent only for things they approve of.  "Join the army, enter a war zone - but have a fag and a pint?  Oh, we can't let you do that!  It would be too dangerous".  Understood in this way, enfranchising 16-year-olds is an act of paternalism and I wouldn't be surprised if 'our young people' stuck two fingers up in response.  I wouldn't blame them either.


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